muscle vs. swing

another theory of mine.  see if this makes sense.

basically, this post is about selecting cues.  it’s probably not a very advanced topic, but i’ll put it out there all the same.  what i’m talking about here though is probably not what you think it is.

i personally think there are two ways to strike the cueball: hitting it with natural arm swing, and hitting it using your muscles.  what does that have to do with cue selection, you ask?  let me explain further, dear readers.

with the natural swing, you basically raise your lower arm, then let the lower arm swing naturally until you hit the cueball.  typically, this style involves a loose grip and a relaxed, easy swing.  i say raise the lower arm because that’s the more textbook approach: keep your upper arm still and move only the lower arm, with your elbow as the pivot point.  in short, you’re trying to mimic a pendulum.  (although your arm + cue is a horrible example of a true pendulum, you kind of get the idea.)

if you prefer the muscle style, you basically try to power the cueball with the force you generate with your arm muscles.  this is normally accomplished by using a firm grip and a more powerful swing, where you generate force by swinging your arm rapidly and powerfully by using muscles.  you rely on the power generated by your arm/body rather than the power that comes from the swing.

now don’t think of them as polar opposites, but instead two ends of a continuum.  i don’t think it’s physically possible to have a pure “muscle hit” or a pure “swing hit” (my terminologies), so most of us use a combination of muscle and swing, with varying ratios of these two elements.  for example, 80% swing, 20% muscle, and so on.  what i want to talk about, rather, is the tendency to use one more than the other.

my personally belief is that if you rely more on the swing, a heavier cue will probably work better, say 19-22 oz.  if you rely more on your muscles to generate force, then you’ll likely benefit from a lighter cue, probably 18-18.5 oz.

when you rely more on swing, you’re trying to let gravity and weight do the work for you; you’re trying to leave your muscles out of the equation.  so when you look at the equation of gravitational potential energy, you’ll see you need more mass to generate more force.  i’m no mathematician, and this is grossly simplified, but i hope you get the idea.

U = mgh

(U = gravitational potential energy, m = mass, g = gravitational acceleration, h = height)

g is a constant here.  as you can see, in order to have more potential energy (and consequently more kinetic energy when you swing your arm), you’ll need more mass and more height.  but you can only raise your arm so much, so the mass of your cue is something you can change more easily.  therefore, to generate more force with swing, you need more mass, which means a heavier cue.

now, if you rely more on the power of your body/muscles, the opposite applies.  you’re trying to overcome the inertia of your cue to generate speed; the lighter the cue, the more speed (and therefore force) you can generate with your muscles.  this is based on the famous F = ma equation.  as you can see, you have to find the balance between m and a, since too much mass means less acceleration, and you can only generate so much speed with your arm & body.

since reality exists and we can’t go around using 1 oz. or 280 oz. cues, experience confines our choices to roughly between 18-22 oz. cues.  i must say that i don’t know anyone that uses a 22-ounce cue.  my personal experience is that after i switched to using my swing more and my muscles less, i went to a heavier cue.  my old, lighter cue simply could not do what i wanted with my new swing.  (or not as effectively.)

i’ve heard mike segal breaks with an 18 oz. cue and plays with a 20 oz.  that makes a lot of sense to me; on break shots you’re trying to generate maximum speed, so a lighter cue gives you maximum acceleration.  the 20 oz. playing cue would suggest that captain hook uses more swing than muscle.  that’s just my guess though.

writing about this topic made me think about older cues (1970s or older).  most older cues i’ve come across are typically pretty heavy for me; normally they’re 20- or 21-ounce cues.  i wonder if the older players relied on swing more than their muscles.  who knows, i’m just theorizing here.  you know how that can go.

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10 comments on “muscle vs. swing

  1. Interesting. For beginners, breaking is very scary. When beginners first break, they get confused on why the balls don’t open up like other players do. The non beginners make breaking look very easy. After trying a few times, they give up and let their partner break with every rack.

    I first learnt to break not by power but by feel. Once I could actually spread the balls open a few inches, I focused on breaking with power.

    One day hubby said something along the lines that I should put my weight on my back foot so that when the arm swings forward, I get that extra omph. And it worked.

    Learning how to break takes a lot of patience. It’s always nice to have somebody there with you to grab the balls and rerack for you. Learning to break is one of those self exploratory journey.

    • for me it’s the power draw stroke. it took quite a bit of experimenting and coaching; certainly not something i could do naturally. and it’s not until lately that i’m discovering the difference between using the swing vs. using my muscles. this is where i think having a good coach/teacher can really help: with a good teacher you learn this very quickly, instead of years of learning to draw yourself. unless you’re a natural, certain things in pool have to be taught in person.

  2. Nice topic. Very similar to the baseball bat debate, although most baseball players have now concluded that a lighter bat is always better; i.e. faster bat speed = more powerful hitting. I tend to align with your line of thinking. I break with an 18oz cue, and play (or hack) with a 19.5oz cue. I’ve noticed during game play that I usually get much better results when I let gravity do most of the work versus using muscles. To get more follow or more draw, I just use higher or lower cue ball address. This give me more feel and more control. Of course, as you point out, there’s never a shot that’s all swing or all muscle. I think most players would play better if they leaned a little more toward the swing.

    • i agree. i noticed a pretty significant increase in power when i switched to a more natural-swing style of stroke, a counter-intuitive type of knowledge.

      i must say that each person has to experiment with this concept. my good friend’s definitely the muscle-type stroke (i’d say 90/10), but he’d just run racks after racks of 9-ball. go figure. my private hunch is that a person’s body type & temperment are some of the determinants of which style that person will adopt. purely theoretical though.

      as far as power goes, i think grip placement is a bigger indication than the style of a person’s swing. just my observation.

    • well, that depends. your weight is directly proportional to how much spam you consume, and apparently you must consume a lot. but thanks for contributing to spamatopoeia.

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